Heart of Europe: Prague and Kraków

Communities, Coexistence, and Conflict from the Middle Ages to Today’s Refugee Crisis

  • Location: Prague, Czech Republic, and Kraków, Poland
  • Faculty: James Wald, Associate Professor of History
  • Learning Collaborative Theme(s): In/Justice and Time and Narrative
  • Departure Date: May 24, 2024
  • Return Date: June 14, 2024
  • Course Fee (tentative): $4400 + airfare and misc. expenses (information about additional expenses and financial aid below)

*Dates & fees are subject to change

Course Summary

Why should you study in the Czech Republic and Poland? Two stunningly beautiful ancient capitals and university towns with rich cultures, dramatic pasts, and promising futures allow us to see the flowering, near-death, and rebirth of European civilization. In less than a century, they experienced the transition from monarchy to republic, Nazi occupation and Soviet domination, post-communist revolution and reintegration into the wider continental community. They were laboratories for artistic experimentation from the Middle Ages to Modernism and political organization from the multi-ethnic empire to the nation-state. One reason for this vibrancy was the mix of Slavic, German, and Jewish populations, whose experience involved both cross-cultural cooperation and conflict. This year, we will pay special attention to the situation arising from the war in Ukraine and resultant influx of refugees. The cities themselves will be our classroom as we explore history and the way the memory of the past has shaped residents’ fears, hopes, and values.


None: no prior knowledge or world language skills required


Short-term field course eligibility requirements: for Hampshire and non-Hampshire students

Financial Information

Short-term field course finances and fundingImportant information about fees, payments, and financial aid.

Course Fee

Includes the following for the full program: tuition/workshops; accommodation and local transportation; most meals, course activities, and orientation costs.

Additional Expenses (costs not included in the course fee)

Approximately $1,200 to include airfare (~$600), additional meals ($300), passport expenses, transportation to and from U.S. airport, and personal expenses. 

How to Apply

Short-term field course application deadlines and instructions

Full Course Description

The course is organized around the investigation of place as the intersection of history and collective memory.

It introduces students to the evolution of two cities and two nations, with particular emphasis on the weight of history: the way that history is embodied in the urban landscape and the role of historical experience and memory in shaping attitudes and identities today. The principal activities thus consist in visits to historical sites and museums in conjunction readings and instruction provided by the Hampshire faculty instructor and lectures and tours by local experts. The course will present an overview of the history of the region and peoples since the Middle Ages. We will, however, focus on the era from independence (1918) to the present. This year, we will highlight and expand our emphasis on these cities as multi-ethnic communities and sites of migration.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, both Czechs and Poles largely controlled their own destinies in states that played a major role in the political and cultural life of Europe. They flourished not least because rulers had invited migrants — Germans and Jews — to help develop the emerging societies and economies. Indeed, by the dawn of the modern era, Poland had become the center of European Jewish life and culture. In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries and a series of wars, Czechs and Poles lost their independence. Memories of that lost freedom inspired the growth of nationalism and cultural revivals from the 19th century onward. Both Prague and Kraków were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The new national movements emerged in a context that involved at first cooperation with and then increasing differentiation from other groups (Germans, Jews, Ukrainians). With the advent of independence in 1918, both Czechoslovakia and Poland became national states with sizeable ethnic minorities. The cataclysmic events of World War II and its aftermath — Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, border changes, ethnic expulsions — turned these formerly diverse polities into essentially monoethnic states.

Both states have attempted to address these histories in various ways. After communism, Poland, for example, embraced its suppressed Jewish past, seeing it as an essential element to be restored to the national history and identity. However, the accession to power of a right-wing, nationalist regime in 2015 has produced a distorted narrative of national innocence: foregrounding Holocaust remembrance, yet essentially denying the importance of antisemitism in Polish history or Polish collaboration in Nazi
persecution of Jews. At the same time, even though Poles and Ukrainians engaged in bloody conflict in the 17th century, and then again in the era of the World Wars, it is illiberal Poland rather than the poster child of democracy and toleration — the Czech Republic — that has most energetically supported Ukraine politically and militarily, and welcomed refugees (1.6 million vs. 500,000). How are we to understand these behaviors and the associated paradoxes? This will be one focus of our program.


Major out-of-city excursions (list may change):

Czech Republic:

  • Terezín Concentration Camp/Ghetto
  • Karlštejn medieval castle
  • Kutná Hora medieval mining town, cathedral, bone chapel


  • Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp

Academic Program

Academic Expectations & Evaluation

Students will participate in all activities, undertake some modest readings, and produce a final project suiting their individual programs of study. Five College or other non-Hampshire students can receive a grade. Accreditation and transcripts are provided by Jagiellonian University, Kraków.

Language Learning

There are no language prerequisites for the course. Students are given a number of resources as part of the pre-departure preparation that they can draw upon to begin to develop their conversational skills in French. During the course, students will be attending presentations and workshops with French-speaking artists, filmmakers, and writers. Each event, exhibit and workshop is used as an opportunity to build vocabulary and conversational skills.

Community Engagement

Our use of local program assistants (generally college students) connects participants with people of their own age and academic orientation. Program assistants will meet participants at the airport and take them to their accommodations, take part in some program activities/excursions, and/or offer optional opportunities to explore the local “scene” during leisure time. Because we work in collaboration with the Dartmore Institute, which has extensive contacts in both cities, we have excellent ties to local academic and cultural institutions. First and foremost among these are the historic (dating back to the Middle Ages) Charles University in Prague and Jagiellonian University in Kraków (the latter is responsible for our accreditation and transcripts). This includes ties to specialized programs or departments such as the Institutes of Jewish Studies and Holocaust Studies at the latter. Faculty from the two universities teach our students in lecture or seminar format. In addition, we partner with local cultural institutions such as the Galician Jewish Museum, Jewish Community Center, and Jewish Cultural Festival in Kraków.

Program Logistics

Visa and Other Travel Requirements

Valid passport; no visa required for U.S. or E.U. citizens; students with other passports should consult the website of the Czech and Polish Embassy for information regarding visa requirements and application procedures. All participants are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and follow any additional COVID-19 testing and quarantining requirements. 

Program Itinerary

(Subject to Change)

May 23, 2024:  Depart the U.S. and arrive in Prague on May 24.

June 14, 2024: Depart Prague and arrive back to the U.S.

Environment,  Level of Physical Activity, and Dietary Needs

Temperate climate and no particular travel difficulties, but students will need to be prepared for walking for a large portion of each day in urban environments. The program is able to accommodate dietary needs.

Travel Plans

Students are expected to make their own travel arrangements to and from Prague. Participants must book travel according to the travel requirements provided by the faculty director upon acceptance.

Housing Arrangements

In both cities, students and the faculty director will be housed in hotels.

Pre-departure Preparation

Students will be provided with a brief historical-geographical orientation to the region and its culture in the orientation session and then, additional resources for future/optional exploration. Students are also required to participate in a session with the Global Education Office on culture and identity, health and safety, study abroad policies, and important travel information.


Questions about the application and selection process or financial aid should be directed to the Global Education Office:

Global Education Office

Questions regarding the academic content or itinerary should be directed to the faculty director:

Jim Wald